At Hesston, the knitting club delights in the therapeutic clicking of knitting needles. But in addition to knitting, students are greeted by the smell of freshly baked desserts and the warmth of a cozy home.
“The club provides a place away from campus where students can connect with each other, find a home within the Hesston community, and simply decompress and de-stress,” said Rita Peters, the host and founder of the knitting club.
On Tuesday evenings, the knitting club meets at the house of Peters, a nursing professor. The knitting club draws a crowd of three to five each week. Most of them are first-timers.The group spends whatever time they can afford eating snacks and discovering a new hobby.
Elizabeth Eichelberger, one of the few regular members, finds other benefits to attending.
“I go back because I need something calming in my life where I can go off campus for a little bit and just hang out with people,” she said.
At a place that feels like home, Eichelberger enjoys conversation, the soothing atmosphere, and “The Knitting Club Mix,” created by past club members, playing in the background.
“With Spotify available, the music options are unlimited!” Peters said, describing the mix as “eclectic.”
And desserts and hot drinks never hurt, Eichelberger said.
“I really enjoy being in a house with a family eating home cooked desserts because I miss my family and house,” she said.
Peters prepares for the group by baking anything from cake to pies and turning on the water kettle for tea or hot chocolate.
The generosity of the Peters family draws Eichelberger back each week.
“You would have to have a lot of kindness in your heart to let several college students come to your house every week to bake for them and teach them how to knit.
Eichelberger greatly appreciates the Peters’ patience while teaching.
“Rita took a lot of time to explain everything to me,” even if the explanations were repeated several times, she said.
Peters does all she can to make students feel welcomed at her house by asking what desserts they would like her to make or making sure the meeting time fits everyone’s schedule, Eichelberger said.
Peters began knitting 20 years ago when she was pregnant with her first child.
“I wanted something to wrap her in that was a physical representation of my love, care, and commitment to her,” she said.
And ever since then, Peters is rarely found without her needles. In 2008, she shared her hobby with students of Hesston College.
“I really didn’t know what to expect when I began, but I quickly came to see that knitting club was about more than just needles and yarn,” she said.
Peters encourages students to bring homework or simply unwind. Anything to make them feel welcome, she said.
“We also have a dog and two cats available for petting!” Peters added, mentioning that they love the attention.
As for the actual knitting part, Peters hears lots of laughter and conversation as they struggle along with their new skill.
“Ironically, I tend to do very little knitting myself, as I’m helping others with their projects, but I’m still enjoying myself!” Peters said.
So is Eichelberger.
“From the moment I enter the house, my worries leave,” Eichelberger said.